Taxi vehicle licences which have expired or will expire during the current health emergency will be automatically renewed.
The move ensures that vehicles that have previously been tested and deemed suitable to operate as taxis can continue to operate at this time.
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon had previously announced all vehicles with MOTs due will be given temporary exemption certificates, however new legislation was required to temporarily exempt taxis from taxi vehicle tests.
The automatic renewal will apply to all existing licences that expire up until October 9, unless normal testing can resume before this date.
Speaking as the legislation comes into effect today (Friday), Minister Mallon said: “The taxi industry plays an important role in our transport network and during this very challenging period I want to support all of those who are working every day to ensure the public can make essential journeys.
“Taxi licences are normally issued for a one year period and are renewed following successful completion of a taxi test. However, to ensure customers and the public are protected from any further spread of Covid-19, testing of taxis and all vehicles is not currently possible.
“I know that this has been a difficult time for the industry and the legislation I have now brought forward will ensure that a vital service remains in place for those who need it, as well as giving some reassurance to those working in the industry and whose livelihood depends upon it.
“Automatic renewals will be for a six month period and will be issued free of charge. There is no application process and those with licences that have expired recently, or are due to expire shortly, will be prioritised.
“Alongside Executive colleagues, I pushed for the British Government self-employment package – but while this may go some way to help those affected more must be done. I can assure the industry that I will do all that I can with my responsibility on regulation and will continue to work with Executive colleagues to press for additional support for those struggling during this challenging time.”
New licences will be issued by the Driver and Vehicle Agency to all affected vehicles over the coming weeks and they should be carried in the taxi at all times.
Owners or drivers will be required to ensure that their vehicle complies with statutory requirements, is appropriately insured and is maintained in a roadworthy condition.
In addition, vehicles should not have been significantly altered or modified since their last inspection, and for the duration of the licence. They should also continue to display their existing plates and signs. A breach of these conditions may lead to revocation of the licence.
The news has been welcomed by Newry and Armagh MLA and Sinn Féin Infrastructure spokesperson Cathal Boylan.
He said: “Since late March all MOT vehicle tests have been suspended, however taxis could not avail of an exemption for tests like other vehicles.
“Now an ‘automatic renewal licence’ is available for taxis where the existing licence falls for renewal 31 days before or the six months after April 10th. It is free of charge and happens automatically without a need for booking a test.
“Of course, conditions will be attached to this automatic renewal licence such as the need for the taxi to be maintained as roadworthy.
“This is a welcome move as taxi drivers are looking assurances that they can continue to operate legally and safely during this crisis.
“Additionally, there are other measures that could assist the sector at this time such as guidance on how drivers can operate safely, to which i have raised with the relevant ministers.
“Taxi drivers are among those hardest hit during this crisis and while the financial support for the self employed is welcomed, Sinn Féin have been pressing for the financial support to be available quicker.
“Taxi drivers provide an essential service to members of the community and cannot be left behind.”